JOAN ROCA Mixing flavor with emotional experiences

Take three brothers’ unique culinary skills, add a generous pinch of passion, blend avant-garde techniques with traditional Catalonian flavors, and what do you get? El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain – the highest ranked restaurant in Restaurant Magazine’s 2013 list of “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” and holder of three Michelin stars. Compass spoke to head chef Joan Roca to discover the secret ingredient to the success he has created with brothers Josep (wine director) and Jordi (pastry chef).

Compass: Why did you decide to become a chef?

Joan Roca: When I was younger, I used to enjoy helping my mother in the kitchen after school, and when I was eight I decided I wanted to become a chef. For me, it was a very natural decision.

What inspired you to create El Celler de Can Roca?

JR: My brothers and I used to work in our parents’ traditional family restaurant. After graduating from the International School of Hospitality, Tourism and Languages in Girona, Spain, and learning about haute cuisine during a trip to France, I began to dream about creating a new restaurant that offered a very different menu and dining experience than my parents’ eatery. As the original family restaurant was very successful and we didn’t want to change it, my brothers and I decided to open our own restaurant where we could experiment with the techniques and skills we’d learned and create everything we’d dreamed of.

How has your family’s extensive culinary background influenced the dining experience you offer?

JR: Inevitably, the culinary traditions of our ancestors have been strongly engrained in us, from our perception of taste to the aromas we grew up with. Our basic cooking techniques have also been strongly influenced by them. Furthermore, seeking inspiration from our childhood memories is one of the key creative points from our philosophy, as well as creating dishes as a tribute to our predecessors.

How do you fuse Catalonian culinary traditions with avant-garde cuisine?

JR: One of our main priorities is to respect the products we use and maintain the authenticity of the traditional flavors. Although we like to try new things by varying the textures, experimenting with our cooking techniques and exploring alternative ways to present our dishes, we always remain faithful to the flavor. We don’t believe in creating avant-garde dishes without the flavor; it makes no sense!

How do you distinguish El Celler de Can Roca from the other top-end restaurants in the market?

JR: At El Celler de Can Roca, we aim to use flavors to evoke memories and offer diners an emotional journey or create an experience of emotional well-being. Flavors allow our guests
to find themselves again.

What do cuisine, science and art have in common?

JR: They are three very different disciplines, but they come together to form a much richer and more creative element. Cooking shares the exactitude and precision of science, and has a natural foundation in physics and chemistry, while cooking from scratch can be considered a form of creative expression. However, we don’t consider ourselves to be artists; we are more like goldsmiths or artisans. All three disciplines have humanism in common.

What advice would you give to aspiring chefs who want to be the best in their field?

JR: It takes a lot of effort, hard work and passion, but the main thing is to be happy while you’re cooking. Otherwise it’s not worth the sacrifice.

If you weren’t in the culinary industry, what would you be doing now?

JR: As a young man I was enticed by architecture, but, ultimately, the kitchen won. ◆

by Rebecca Gibson Back to top
by Rebecca Gibson

Three-Michelin star chefs Joan and Jordi Roca from El Celler De Can Roca Cook two classics: